Across from me, right now and all the time, the guy is mowing his lawn. There is never a day he is not pursuing this most suburban, American and fruitless of activities: walking around behind a machine that cuts off thousands of human feet a year to make the grass level.
I hate lawns. I hate their bland expanse, the money people dump in them in the form of chemicals they literally dump on them, and the endless work they require. They are biological deserts, attracting only pests that require more chemicals to get rid of. They put wasteful space between us, maroon trees in blank green expanses, consume immense volumes of water. There is always something wrong with them, and they are always growing.
Growing up meant long summers in the heart of Texas lawn fetish country, where the weekends were a din of machines whining and grunting and throbbing their way through acre lots of grass. Kids earned money wasting irreplaceable gasoline, phosphorous and their youth to make the living stuff flat as a pool table. I did this, and hated it. After a while we even got a “lawn tractor”: it required no walking but only driving and holding on to avoid being thrown by the lurching rubber-band transmission. Three blades underneath it in a massive steel enclosure didn’t make the work any shorter, but allowed you to mow more lawns. More kids than you’d think saved up their summers and in high school bought new pickup trucks.
As a kid I hated the noise, dust, heat and fumes. I hated being out in the sun and sweating, each scalp pore thrown into itching. In middle and high school, I hated my valuable time–likely spent sulking in the air conditioning willing the summer to hurry and be over–given up to this pointless, endlessly repeated task. It was like eating but worse, although unlike eating it required less wasting time with preparing and cleanup. In elementary I only saw the five or ten dollars I could get for a lawn, not realizing the sucker I was until adolescence gave its clarity.
The guy next door has a lawnmower, a comparative rarity in Hawaii. Here the two-cycle weedwhacker might as well be the state bird, so many of them are always out with their shrill buzz. They are used as a lawnmower is, though the user sweeps back and forth while walking in a straight line. Lawns are buzzed down to the thinnest layer of living green.
I live in the city now and have no lawn. Every so often I think of the hours returned to me, and I am grateful, and clean.